January 7, 2012; Source: Charlotte Observer | Nonprofits have grown very smart about solutions to homelessness. One major development has been the shift in focus of many homeless providers from temporary shelters or transitional housing to a concept of “housing first,” putting homeless families and individuals into permanent housing with accessibility to supportive services.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, nonprofits have been placing homeless families into scattered-site units in middle-income neighborhoods without sparking opposition from their middle-class neighbors. Apparently, some 300 formerly homeless families have moved into middle-class neighborhoods in the city, though not outside the I-485 loop.

The 300 families have been helped by Charlotte Family Housing and the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope to move into vacant apartments or homes with the rent payments helped by government subsidies. The homeless families are linked to social workers who help them “learn basics like how to manage their finances and get along with neighbors,” according to the Charlotte Observer. Charlotte Family Housing reports that 70 percent of the families in the program have “graduated to financial independence and are able to pay their own rent,” and have found stable employment with the help of CFH’s “extended family” of helpers and supporters and new homes located nearer to jobs and transportation.

The article quotes one of the landlords, who notes that the formerly homeless families are “among the most compliant tenants” she has. The point ought to be obvious. Homeless families need homes. If provided with housing opportunities closer to jobs and transportation, and bolstered by appropriate kinds of support and counseling, the prospects that they will be just like other, ideal residents—stable and generally unobtrusive—are strong. Give the nonprofit sector credit for devising and refining the “housing first” concept for responding to homelessness. It isn’t a cure for poverty, but housing first can make significant inroads into the problem of homelessness by providing homeless families and individuals with a place to live, a place of greater security than they could ever have in public shelters, a place from which to take steps toward the education and training that will help them reach greater levels of stability and independence.—Rick Cohen